Memoir Writing Reflections #2: A Thousand Words A Day

Word counts and number of pages heavily influence my approach in writing. From Grade 4 onwards, in multiple classes from Language (English) class and Filipino class, we were required to fill pages upon pages of lined paper with paragraphs on certain topics. Some of them were comically dull, such as “what I did last summer” since for me, 70% of the time I was watching the store. I can cover that in just one paragraph. Since these essay worksheets have a defined number of pages and we students have learned that being suspiciously short lowers your grade, we learned to stretch and beat around the bush. Adding flowery words, extra couple of sentences, and extending simple statements with independent and dependent clauses are skills I’ve mastered well.

The page limit means just that – that there will be a point when I won’t be able to write any further. In my earlier years before I had access to a computer on a regular basis, this can be an agonizing experience. When I feel that I’m gaining momentum with the middle paragraphs of backstory and supporting points and then all of a sudden, I have less than half a page left, needing to hastily switch and make a concluding paragraph. It feels like walking into a hallway and getting smacked in the face with a glass door. It’s painfully abrupt. So, I’ve learned to “budget” the paper space ahead of time. As a university student here in Canada over a decade ago, I’m immensely grateful for Google Docs and Microsoft Word for this very reason. If I went overboard, I could trim the excess before submitting the final version.

For this memoir project, dealing with word counts and spitting out words is a whole new challenge. These days I rarely have limits on how long my write-ups should be, unless I have to submit them externally. As a volunteer columnist for the Alberta Filipino Journal for the past six years my word limit is simple, 650 – 700 words. Pretty easy to follow. When I wrote the historical essays for Edmonton Heritage Council’s historical initiative called Edmonton City As Museum Project, they had a maximum word limit, but writers get paid by the word. I tried my best to ensure I don’t unnecessarily inflate the piece while giving myself the flexibility to expand if needed. In both articles I had about 50 – 100 words left. With the CBC articles, where is also a word limit but the payment is a flat rate. It helped the editor with expanding a little bit more because they want to keep a well-written statement. Only the second piece went over the 600 word count.

Now that I had 40+ chapters to write about. I did some research on the average word count of a chapter for full-length books such as novels. I agonized on how many words I need to pump out in a day. With personal blogs such as the ones over here, there were many moments when I finished a post in a single sitting – usually about 1000 words. For some time, I wondered whether that’s a fluke or normal. This process of writing a lot – a whole lot more than usual – is an experiment on how many sentences I can spit out that are somehow coherent.

One of my husband’s creative people is J. Michael Straczynski, a filmaker who released their memoir/how-to book, Becoming Superman. What a remarkable and heartbreaking story of hardship in his younger years! It was also amazing to see how his artistic career blossomed. His is the first book where I read practical tips on advancing one’s journey as a writer. “Writer all the crap out and write all the time, and make sure that you submit before the deadline, because it’s amazing how many assholes don’t” is the essence of his friendly and utilitarian advice. I like it. It resonated with me and boosted my confidence. I’ve always completed my written work on time, sometimes early, so that the editor can have the time and breathing room to look it over before getting bombarded by everyone else’s on-time or almost late submissions.

This time around, I am the rule-maker. And the rules, the constraints, are actually helpful in getting focused. So with each chapter I gave myself a semi-flexible limit: minimum 1000 words that clearly narrate at least three scenes, threads of thought, ideally both. This resulted into chapters that are between two to five pages. When I see a chapter going beyond that, I find a natural spot to split the narrative, which prevented me from feeling guilty that one area looked too long. Instead, by giving myself permission to split the chapters, I managed to add a couple more paragraphs to help make that mini story feel complete.

My author mentor lent me a stack of books to help me learn various techniques about writing. She enthusiastically said over and over that numerous principles used in writing fiction are just as useful in writing creative nonfiction. This was especially useful and motivational for me since I am narrating a story – the story of my childhood as my younger self experienced it. One of the books is On Writing, by novelist Stephen King. Similar to Becoming Superman, it’s a memoir/how-to combination which I liked. Him sharing his schedule with numbers is the most striking piece of advice for me. He said he would write a thousand words a day in the morning, stay consistent, and complete a first draft of a novel in three months as a result. Well, guess who completed a memoir draft in three months – this lady! I was overjoyed when I read this. Will my works be as brilliant as his, who knows? It also didn’t matter too much – he had a lot of freedom and flexibility since he wrote fiction. I know I shouldn’t trap myself into stringent formulas, but a roadmap helps prevent the feeling of spiraling out of control. I also don’t write a thousand words every single day. But if a thousand words in 50 days in under three months is a workable formula for me, I’ll take it!

Memoir Writing Reflections #1: The Brain is a Marvel

by: Giselle General

This year, on top of everything else my husband and I drastically changed, I added one more to the list. I finally started working of my first memoir, my first full-length written work. The initial plan was to publish something right around my 30th birthday last year. That got derailed by two major things: COVID and running for public office during a pandemic.

This is to account my initial reflections on this journey and observing my mind, both how it works when it comes to motivation and getting organized, and from a mental health standpoint as far as memories and triggers.

I had to check my email history and digital calendar to confirm the timeline. When you don’t have a full time job, the pace of time feels so strangely elastic and oddly compact, depending on the time of day. In early September, I took a chance and applied for the Horizon’s Writing Circle, a writer mentorship program. I recall being so nervous outlining my bio as an artist, feeling like a fraud. I suppose I had a few essays and got paid for it. I’ve been blogging for a decade and been an ethnic paper columnist for five years. But will it be enough to deserve undivided attention from someone who actually published multiple books?

I applied for the program in early September and in early October I got the confirmation that I got in the program. How exciting! I arranged a meeting with the author mentor in mid-October. Just like the other mentorship programs I participated in, I had a very clear goal in mind and I needed their advice to make it successful. When I outlined my goal, the summary of the memoir and the tangible deliverable, my mentor was excited. But it didn’t hit home for me until I hear her utter the words “Yes, I’m very positive that by the end of our mentorship period, you will have a first manuscript.” That felt so real, so tangible. It’s remarkable.

This is a precious time and opportunity, I have to everything I can to make the most of it.

This sparked a flurry of motivation in my mind and my heart. I made an outline of all the different chapters and themes of my life using blank MS Word documents. In a few minutes I had 40 blank chapters. Whenever inspiration strikes as the cliche goes, I would open a file and either type the entire story right there, or write short phrases of the smaller stories to write about. As of right now, I’ve been doing this for just two months, and I’m halfway through, over 20 chapters that looked decent enough to be scrutinized. Done is better than perfect, I tell myself over and over. It frankly didn’t feel like much, but when I say to people out loud, their reactions remind me that 20 chapters in less than 60 days is noteworthy.

Some days when I write, my brain somehow forgets to tell my body to breathe. After the keyboard clatters for a few minutes as I tell a heartbreaking experience, I’d suddenly gasp for air. Only then do I clearly look at the words on the screen, and tears would roll down my face. I thought that being triggered would be more melodramatic and fiery than this. I guess I was wrong.

In early December I had a dream that I wasn’t happy about. In my dream, somehow my father became alive in my current life as an adult for just one day. I was frantically giving him a tour around my home and around Edmonton, filling him in on what he missed for the past 23 years. The day doesn’t end, I don’t know what rudely woke me up into reality. I laid in bed, my eyes angrily boring holes in the ceiling as the tears silently fell. I know that this is from my consciously digging up memories and putting them on paper, or in this case, the computer screen.

Damn it, brain! Why do you have to do this to me? This wore me out mentally more than the other times I got emotional while writing. I spent the next week not writing anything new, just updating the grammar of the earlier chapters I wrote.

While dedicating time and energy to write, I had to juggle other priorities as well. There’s truth to the saying looking for a job is a full-time job. Taking the time to diligently search for opportunities that fit my experience level and salary range and writing a thoughtful application, that takes effort and a mental toll. I try to switch it up during weekdays, a few hours on job searching, an hour or two on writing, then some time for chores and volunteering.

This is how I remind myself that being unemployed doesn’t mean I’m useless. That I’m still improving my skills, using the ones I have, and making a positive impact around me in different ways. Sometimes it looks like the homecooked meal I made and a clean kitchen sink. It can look like being present at a board meeting and being efficient in all the items we discussed. It can look like a piece of artwork I finished for the home and two memoir chapters done in a single day.

Activities not related to writing or career help me stay grounded and balanced. My husband actively finds video games that a very beginner-level person like me can handle, and he is very kind and diligent when we do levels together where he had to do about 70% of the work. It’s pretty sweet of him. Whenever he plays video games that he streams to his audience online, I hear him talk about me and share fun updates about ‘the wife’. I sometimes chime in on conversations and his audience seem to enjoy it. Our group of friends have organized a weekly movie night, just like what they did regularly a decade ago. My friend asked for my help with pet-sitting and it’s quite fun being a dog and cat auntie. It’s actually nice having a cat on your lap being cozy while reading one of the books my mentor author lent me about writing techniques.

My suicidal ideation has never left my mind, but I am able to keep it at bay for the most part. It’s not by feeling more optimistic about the world – there’s too much obvious evidence that people and systems are harmful and selfish and problematic. It’s by keeping a little bit of hope that what I do matters to a small extent and it affects people positively, whether it’s just myself, my immediate love ones, or those who gets affected by any of my community service work. And that’s enough for now.

The Female Duet that Changed my Preconceived Views

Closeup of two women singing a duet and holding a mic together

By: Giselle General

Earlier this month, a high school student volunteer and I were doing some community service work for my neighborhood. It’s a requirement for her Grade 12 Religion Class. She is a Filipino teenager who is relatively new to Canada and Edmonton, being here for just a few years with her experiences limited by having to attend school remotely.

She also volunteered for my neighborhood community league last July and August for her Grade 11 Religion Class during summer school. So we’ve spent some time with each other and have gotten comfortable chatting about various things. It’s been pretty fun!

During her most recent volunteer shift, she was helping me pick up litter along the public sidewalks in my neighborhood. It was tricky as snow has fallen over the past two days, hiding the pieces of trash I know were still stuck there for the past few weeks. We’d kick and shove the freshly fallen snow, pick up pieces of cardboard, plastic and the occasional pencil with our pickup stick and shove it into the trash bag I have open.

Feeling good about being outdoors in the cold for two hours and filling a large bag of trash, we went back into our community hall to clean up and warm up. By this time we’ve talked about many things that teens are likely to talk to an older cousin or cool aunt about – school, friends, crushes, Canadian culture and etiquette and my experiences with these as a Filipino newcomer teenager 15 years ago.

We switched to the topic of music and got into the conversation of beautiful duets we enjoyed listening to. That’s when I shared to her the very first time I heard a duet sang by two women (female voices) and how it changed my outlook on music. Until then, in my childhood years, I’d always thought of duets as something sang by a man and a woman as their vocal ranges are so different from each other. Until I was proven wrong.

It was in the early 2000’s and I was a second year high school student in a mining village in the Philippines. It was time for Intramural competition, and in my school, the performing arts and athletic competitions are equally intense. On the performing arts competitions there are solo singing, duet, individual and group dances.

The duet singing competition started. I remember being curious when two female students went on stage. They performed the song “Tell Him”. I got goosebumps hearing them both sing the chorus!

Tell him
Tell him that the sun and moon
Rise in his eyes
Reach out to him
And whisper
Tender words so soft and sweet
I’ll hold him close to feel his heart beat
Love will be the gift you give yourself

Their voices were both clearly feminine but were distinct from each other. On top of that, they were not acting like a couple singing those words to each other, which made them stand out even more than the other contestants. I remember the screams of amazement, the cheers and the standing ovation we gave as the audience right after the song. They were the clear winners for the category even before the official announcement happened a few days later in the award ceremony.

It wasn’t until years later when I thought of this performance again. I search the song online and watched the original performance by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. And as I listened to it, my awe and appreciation just all came back.

As I was telling this story to the student volunteer, I pull out my cellphone to show her the YouTube video of the original music video. She seemed just as astonished as I was 18 years ago that two women can sing together in such a contrasting and harmonizing way. I sang the first two lines of the chorus, both with the soprano and alto lines to show how different they sound individually, encouraging her to imagine how they sound when combined.

This song continues to be one of my absolute favourites because of how my schoolmates performed it, in the underground gymnasium of our high school. I don’t even remember the names of the students who performed, but I know that the community if people who lived in the village of Philex Mines is quite vast all over the world. If this post somehow reaches them I hope that it becomes an opportunity for lovely nostalgia of their high school years.

Like Father, Like Daughter: We Both Have Metal Dentures!

As an attempt to convince his kids to take dental health seriously, I remembered my father, when I was a kid, basically telling us “don’t be like me!” He had metal dentures for the top of his teeth, and he during one of these conversations, he would take them out of his mouth and show them for us to have a closer look. I don’t recall any other details about what happened to his teeth that he ended up losing a few of his adult teeth and him needing to have dentures. He was too focused driving down his stern advice: don’t eat too much sweets and brush your teeth every night, or else you’ll lose your permanent teeth and that would be bad.

I knew he meant well, but back then there’s an issue as far as people’s perception of dental care in the Philippines. Since dental care is something you pay out of pocket, when you don’t have the means, so-called preventative care and checkups are out of the question. You would go only when there’s a toothache that is so unbearable pain or only to pull out rotting teeth.

In 1999, shortly before my family got into the fatal vehicle accident, I vaguely remember my sister telling me that she went to the community dentist on her own for the first time. That she was nervous and also proud that she went. At the time, both she and I are starting to see many of our adult teeth forming.

And when the accident happened, well, medical check-ups of any kind went out the window. Asking for permission, and for money, for medical and health related reasons was tough. My grandma would mock me and scornfully ask “did your father’s side relatives make you ask? If they want so badly to do things like dentist checkups form you, maybe you and your brother should move and live with them instead!”

2007 was a chaotic year for many reasons but January was pretty rough. After coming back from New Year’s vacation from the father’s side relatives, I asked the mother’s side relatives, who I live with, if some of the suvivor’s pension money can go towards a dental checkup. This infuriated my uncle and grandmother and my brother and I got punished severely. That’s all I have to say about that for now.

It was soon very obvious that two of my froth teeth were really rotting. Since dental care is cheaper in the Philippines, they were extracted and I got my new dentures less than a month before my flight to Canada on August 2007.

During university I managed to get a few check ups and fillings done for my teeth because I managed to stack my benefits. I learned that my benefits from working retail at Future Shop which covered 50% of basic procedures, plus the 50% covered from being a university student, completely took care of the cost. Perfect for a broke university student!

When I visited the Philippines in 2013 with my then-boyfriend, since I knew dental work is still cheaper and I was unemployed, I got a replacement for my dentures. I was sold to the fact that the one with a metal plating will be more sturdy than the plastic one. I was pretty irritable for a good chunk of the trip for other reasons so it was a stressful experience. The metal base had to be adjusted a few times so it stops cutting through my gums, but it was all good ever since.

After I got used to my metal plated dentures, that’s when I remembered that my father had a metal plated one as well! I whispered a little prayer then, apologizing that unfortunately I didn’t manage to keep all my adult teeth. From then on, my dental care routine has improved dramatically. I told myself, I’m the adult now and I can take the reins moving forward and take care of the teeth I have left.

When we moved to the neighbourhood my husband grew up in, he convinced me to go to his dental clinic so that we have the same dentist. Remarkably, my husband only had one dentist for his entire life, since he was a child! When Dr. Chin retires, I bet it will be quite an adjustment for him. Maybe my husband can reach 40 years old first before that happens?

The first major dental surgery I had was 2015, when I had ALL my four wisdow teeth pulled out at the same time. The bottom two are impacted, meaning they are not coming out properly and are kinda stuck, causing pain, risk of mis-aligning the rest of my teeth, and potential infection from hard to reach areas that I’m not able to clean properly. Again, huge thanks for work benefits covering the cost of all that.

These days, I go to the dentist at least once a year for a full checkup and cleaning. Even after we moved from my husband’s neighbourhood to a different location, we continue to go to the clinic of his childhood dentist. It’s funny that I seem to be more diligent with booking my appointment that he was. When I sit on the patient’s chair and the dental hygenist gets started with their work, I have to remind myself to ask “oh! I have dentures, should I take them out now?”. Then they would put it away neatly wrapped in tissue and inside a paper cup.

Every appointment I would ask my dentist to check on my dentures. At this point, I would have this metal one for almost a decade now. Whenever I ask, how are they looking? Are they falling apart? Should I get them changed? So far, the dentist keeps saying that the dentures are still in good shape and for as long as they are comfortable I can keep using them.

Maybe in the future, when I am in a position to have a positive impression on a child, let’s say being an aunt or grandma, maybe I can do the same technique as my father did. Maybe I can pull out the dentures, grin widely to show the missing teeth, and say “this is what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth. Do you best to care for them and brush them always!” While I wasn’t able to fully follow my father’s advice, those were due to childhood circumstances outside of my control. Maybe when I give the strict cautionary tale, with the support of the adults in their lives, the kids these days will be able to follow through.

Love Language Reflections: My ‘Unusual’ Public Displays of Affection

A mural on a public wall of a man and a woman holding hands in the forest with a quote "Did you know, you're my love, C & G. Giselle G."

By: Giselle General

In some ways we are unconventional and I love it! My husband likes to tease me about the ways I have showed ‘public affection’, more specifically, broadcasting about our relationship and marriage.

I’d usually respond, “Well, what do you expect when you are married to someone so amazing?

Public Art

Around summer 2017, because it was the 150th year anniversary of Canada being founded, there were numerous projects and community activities to participate in. In our former neighbourhood, we applied for grant funding to achieve two goals in one – a community building exercise and a combination of public art with prevention of unwanted graffiti. Over a few weekends, residents had a chance to sign up for a spot, plan their artistic idea, and go to the public sound barrier walls to paint their masterpiece.

During that weekend in June I multitasked, supporting everyone painting by making sure they have enough paint and snacks, while painting my own mural as well. As a result, I made a simple, cutesy painting of him and me, with the phrase “Did You Know You’re My Love”. It was fun and five years later, while some of the paint is fading a bit, it is still in good shape. The best part, even after we moved to a different neighbourhood here on the west end, we can still visit the location by walking. And it’s so much fun dropping by to see our mural, and the dozens of other ones painted during that summer.

Public Speeches

While I’m not as frequent and intense as Ned from the Try Guys that I mention my spouse every single moment of every single day, I’d like to think I make up for it in quality. Back in 2019, I was nervous when I applied as a speaker for Edmonton’s Next Gen speaking event called Pecha Kucha Night. My topic can be described as bit too personal and perhaps uncomfortable for a public audience. It’s titled “Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor”. But I felt in my heart, that my husband and everything he did was amazing, particularly when it comes to caring for someone with a lot of traumatic baggage, and there is a lot.

I was so relieved that I got accepted as a speaker. A bonus is that the event took place a month after our wedding, which was in front of the mural I painted a few years back. It was the perfect way to end the speech. When I got to the part where I said “so a few months ago, I proposed to him and he said yes!” and the large screen showed a wedding photo, cheers erupted from the audience. With all that said, the most valuable part for me is sharing my experience and potentially useful advice on how to love, care and be intimate with a sexual assault survivor. I hope that other couples were able to learn something from it.

Public Articles

While sure, we have our artwork in our house and our private diaries over the years, another way our relationship has been documented publicly is through articles, paid freelance articles, where my relationship with him is a major aspect of the topic.

There’s these two ones through CBC, a major broadcasting outlet in Canada:

And there’s this other one from a local project focused on preserving local heritage and stories:

Whenever I write something that will be published in a large platform like this, I strive to be mindful of the content and language. There are a some topics he is sensitive about so I don’t include it at all. The angle always focused on being informative, maybe a bit romantic but not necessarily explicitly sexual, wholesome and inspirational. So far, I am three for three in these articles. For my larger scale writing projects, this is something I will strive to maintain.

The husband accepts the fact that I’m a bit of a public figure in my own way, and I like to do projects and activities that reaches a wide audience sometimes. As a couple, we have embraced and enjoyed avoiding the trap of obligatory gift-giving for every single occasion, which has saved us a lot of stress and money. I’d say that these are more fun and something you cannot buy from a store!

The Last Birthday Gift I got from My Parents

Closeup of a child wearing pink pyjamas holding a yellow birthday gift box.

By: Giselle General

It was May 1999, and my family is planning for another set of birthday celebrations. As my brother and I are born on the same month, and less than two weeks apart, the family is not very keen on having two large-scale parties so close to each other. In our small village in Philex Mines in the Philippines, birthday parties usually consist of inviting dozens of neighbours and their entire families, the adults and the kids. So it is a big affair.

My sister is a year and a half older than me and a bit taller. Her love of sports made her pretty fit and athletic. Also being the oldest, I imagine that even then, my parents were already either asking her help for more mature things, or she started being privy to information that wasn’t passed on to me or my brother.

My parent’s closet in their bedroom has four shelves. The top shelf was too high that I cannot reach it. Even climbing on top of the first shelf to boost me up wasn’t enough. I’m unable to cling onto the edge of the top shelf, let alone stick my arm further to search for whatever is inside.

Like most siblings, my sister loves teasing me. Well, it’s more of a back and forth really. She loves to give me jump scares, hiding on a hallway or behind the door and as soon as I walk by, she would jump and startle me. I tease her about being afraid of the dark, that whenever the electricity shuts down and it’s pitch black, she’d shriek and grab my arm for dear life.

It looked like she knew ahead of time what our parents bought me for my birthday. She said that as a surprise, our parents tucked it at the very far back of the top shelf of their closet. I thought, darn it, they are smart!

Their bedroom is not always open so I knew I had to be swift if I wanted to find out what it was. Apparently it was already gift wrapped so it should be easy to spot. But try as I might, I still haven’t grown tall enough to climb up and reach.

Then a week before the birthday celebration, my sister said that she’s positive that I will like the gift they got for me. But apparently, our parents moved it to a different cabinet. Disappointed, I stopped searching around altogether. The birthday party is just a few days anyway.

Then it was the day of the party! It was pretty fun as always, with our neighbourhood friends – both kids and parents – enjoying the treats and the balloons and just getting together. It was my turn to blow the candle for my cake, a green and white pandan-flavoured cake like I requested. Then it was my brother’s turn. Since he is still pretty little as it is his fourth birthday, my mother held him as he tried to lean on the cake to blow his candle.

And then finally I got my gift! It was a skipping rope (back then we call them Jumping Rope) and I was indeed delighted! My sister sheepishly told me that actually, our parents didn’t move the gift away from the cabinet. She just thought saying that will make me stop snooping around and ruin my own surprise.

That skipping rope was well used and well loved over the next few months. In our house it is the only one we have that is factory made, with the fancy colorful rope and plastic handles. My sister, her best friend, and I would spend afternoons trying to beat each other’s records for the most amount of jumps in a row. Sometimes they would show off by skipping barefoot. That never appealed to me – I had to wear flip flops at least.

And then a few months later, the accident happened, the one that killed my sister and both of our parents. Since I had a fractured skull, I was prohibited from doing any physical activities. I never saw that skipping rope ever again. I was also stopped from returning to the community Martial Arts class our parents registered us for.

I thought about it for a while as an adult. For some reason I’ve felt reluctant to get myself another one. Perhaps in my mind, it seems like it’s something only for little children. Despite seeing ads and videos of people doing skip rope in professional gyms, it didn’t resonate with me.

Four skipping ropes and two small hand weights on a gym floor

But all that changed this summer, right after I resigned from my job. I finally bought myself one, one of those sleek, athletic looking ones from the gym equipment section of the store. To my relief and delight, the rope is adjustable. I have the height of a 10 year old child so I was a bit worried it would be too long and awkward for me.

The first time I tried it again it was awkward. Since about six years ago I started suffering from plantars fasciitis and I had to be more careful when my feet land! I had to make a dozen attempts to get the rhythm right as well. After a few days, skipping rope felt comfortable and delightful again! A goal for my summer being unemployed is to recapture how life was like when I was a kid, to have a leisurely summer again. With the other activities I did, plus the skipping rope, that goal was achieved!

Blueberry Pie: When Food Literally was part of my Therapy Routine

By: Giselle General

Content Warning: References to sexual assault, mental health treatment.

This story is from my experiences between February and September 2017, a transformative and healing time for me as far as my mental health and outlook in life.

February 2017 was when I had my first therapy appointment with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, a free therapy service for those who survived sexual abuse. My boss at the time suggested this resource in November 2016, right after she noticed I was reeling from the election of Donald Trump. Let’s just say it was not great as a sexual abuse survivor to have a prominent politician still elected after it was revealed he made statements like “grab the women by the pussy.”

After I did the online application and got the screening phone call in November 2016, I was told I’m waitlisted. Then I got notified that I am in and can book my first appointment. It was about mid-February in 2017, at 4 PM.

I chose 4 PM because the clinic is open only during office hours, but at the same time, I’d like to be at work for as long as I could before taking off for the day. Making up the work hours is not an issue at all. I’d leave work at 3 PM to take the bus to the office for the appointments.

For something as emotionally tough and draining such as therapy, especially for something traumatic like sexual assault, I didn’t realize how starved I was right after the appointments. Luckily, there is a business plaza right across the street, with this shop named Fifendekel. Due to the bus schedule, I actually arrive in the area 20 minutes before the appointment.

For the first few appointments, I’d stop by there, get a sandwich and a drink and eat it right away before the appointment. I’d rotate between the egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad, no tomatoes but extra sprouts. But I learned that it throws off my appetite for dinner. Also as it turns out, feeling stuffed while talking about heavy topics was not comfortable – I mean physically. Emotional discomfort is already there since, well, it’s therapy.

One time I decided to get food after the appointments, but I learned the hard way that they close at 4:30. So I learned that whether I’ll eat it right away or later, my window of opportunity is before my appointment. And that’s what I did.

While waiting for my sandwich to be assembled, I always look at the desserts glass display, eyeing the small paper plates with single slices of pie. I love blueberry pie, so whenever it’s there I’d order a slice to eat at the store. When I started ordering my food to-go, I was worried whether it will travel well in the take-out box, but it did, thank goodness!

So for many of the appointments I had afterwards, a routine was set. I’d leave work, take the bus, walk a few blocks to get a yummy sandwich and pie, put it in my briefcase vertically and head on to the appointment. Afterwards, I’d take a cab to take me home and have my sandwich and pie by myself in our breakfast bar by the kitchen. I literally felt like I’m being re-fueled, from the delicious food and moments of peace and quiet I have before my husband goes home after having dinner at his parent’s place.

Then at bedtime, we would do what we call the “therapy after the therapy”. While cozy in our bed, my husband would ask “how did therapy go?” and would diligently listen to any new insights or techniques I learned from the appointment.

Of course during the appointments, it is unavoidable that I share to my therapist a story or two about my husband. Oftentimes, those were positive stories of love, support and care towards me. The approval and glee from my therapist is quite evident. I’d tell this to my husband. He would then ask “so, I am therapist-approved?’ And I’d say “yes, absolutely you are!”

The appointments went from weekly for a few months, and then became bi-weekly by the summer, and then in early fall, for August and September, they became once a month. Until such time that my therapist felt it was a good time to wrap up.

Over the years, whenever I had blueberry pie, whether at a restaurant or a meal with love ones, I would always think fondly to myself “oh, there’s my therapy pie!”

Community Resource Article – When Debt Issues Arise

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in June 2022.

Managing one’s finances is an important responsibility in order for us to have a comfortable life. But sometimes, unexpected things happen, and we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation. Perhaps the bills, mortgage, rent or credit card payments were left unpaid too many times and things have escalated a bit. Perhaps you are about to lose your home, or received a court document, or been subjected to aggressive phone calls or messages from those who want payment.

Here are some resources that can help when financial problems turn for the worse.

When Financial Debt Requires Legal Help

  1. Consumer Debt Negotiation Project Program – Edmonton Community Legal Centre: Many of us have consumer debt, such as credit card payments, car loans, personal loans, even a mortgage. You might be falling behind on payments, and you discovered that there is a legal action that happened, let’s say, you received a court document from the bank or the company you owe money to. You can contact this free program so you can get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer to get help.To contact this service, to go the website https://www.eclc.ca/need-legal-support/ and then click on the box that says “For Consumer Debt Negotiation Project”

Emergency Financial Supports

  1. Community Bridge Program: Funds To Prevent Getting Kicked Out by Landlord: If you are renting the place where you live right now, and you fell behind on rent payments, it is likely that your landlord would want to evict you. Getting kicked out of the place where you live can be very stressful and disruptive. This program is a financial ‘rapid response’ as a last resort so you can stay in your place and make payments you missed. The link to access this program is https://bissellcentre.org/programs/individual/community-bridge/
  2. Emergency Needs Allowance – Government of Alberta: This is a program direct from the Alberta Government for when you face an unexpected emergency that can present a health risk and caused by unexpected circumstances that you cannot pay for. It can cover a wide range of needs such as food, clothing, childcare, temporary shelter, utility payments, eviction payments and more. The link to get more information and how to apply is:    https://www.alberta.ca/emergency-financial-assistance.aspx

Financial Literacy – Learning about Money Management

  1. Credit Counselling Society – Online Courses: This is a self-paced online course that focus on financial management skills such as learning the realities of credit, budgeting, spending on food, and more. In addition to the online courses, they also have other ways to support when you are currently facing financial difficulty. https://nomoredebts.org/financial-education/online-courses  
  2. Each One, Teach One: This program is designed for bankers to deliver basic financial literacy workshops to newcomers, refugees, individuals who face barriers to financial services, and people living in low-income communities, in a “teach the teacher” type of format. It is comprehensive, as it covers topics beyond just budgeting and debt, such as investments, contracts, and fraud prevention.  https://www.myunitedway.ca/each-one-teach-one/
  3. Money Mentors Financial Education: Money Mentors also provides services to help people in financial difficulties, and they have also educational content on their website. The catalogue is even more comprehensive than the other two, addressing other complex but common issues like preparing financially for a baby, having unpredictable income sources, home ownership, money discussions in inter-generational households, and many more.   https://moneymentors.ca/financial-education/  

This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope that this is a useful starting point. After you contact these resources, it is possible also that they might recommend other programs and services to help with your situation. Having financial issues can be stressful and embarrassing, but a lot of the time, the staff and volunteers that are part of these programs are understanding and compassionate. When contacting them, I highly recommend sharing all the necessary details and not leave out information even if it feels shameful. Complete transparency is important for them to understand your compete situation in order for you to get the best help you need.

Free Man and Woman Sitting at Table Stock Photo

“Matanim ay ‘di Biro!” On Indoor Plant Care

By: Giselle General

Magtanim ay di biro, Maghapong nakayuko, Di naman makatayo, Di naman makaupo! (Planting is not a joke, as you need to bend over all afternoon, you cannot stand, you cannot sit!)

This is a folk song I remember learning as a child, about the hard work that is required to plant rice in farming fields. While I personally haven’t experienced that as a child since I grew up in a mountainous region in the Philippines before coming to Canada, it got instilled in my mind that care for plants is a serious and important thing.

Potted plants were a common thing in the homes where I lived in both countries. They came in different forms: an outdoor plant box, milk cans or clay pots for indoor plants, or just a raised garden bed right by the stairs leading up to the house. But plant care in Canada was a whole different ball game since the drastically changing seasons dictate what, when and how plants need to be care for.

I started paying more attention to indoor plants in the places I lived in, when I moved in with my then boyfriend, now husband. In his condo, he had one potted plant that he got from his mom as a housewarming gift. It’s one of those generic types of plants seen in many people’s homes. He had a nickname for it that stuck, Mr. Plant. We found the perfect spot for it, right beside the narrow living room window, perched by the edge of the TV stand. It was relatively low maintenance, watering it once a week and not putting any fertilizer was enough for it to survive long enough for us to take it to the house we moved in to in 2015.

That house came with one plant that was hanging by the stairwell ceiling, so we nicknamed it H. Plant, and yes H stands for “hanging”. We watered it regularly but didn’t put fertilizer as we never got into the habit of it. When there were a few leaves that were dying, I’d cut them off and put it in the pot, hoping to myself that it can be somehow a fertilizer substitute. I thought, it’s organic material, right? We also inherited an Aloe Vera plant from our friend, after their then newly-acquired cat kept on attacking it, which we aptly nicknamed A.V. Plant. It’s quite obvious that we name things in a practical, not creative way. We got a few other small pots of plants that didn’t survive as long, such as the one I got as a wedding gift, and one free pot I got from work for Earth Day.

A plate of spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce.

Sometime later in the year 2021, when we were shopping at Costco, my husband decided to take an impulse purchase, which is very rare. He decided to get tabletop Aerogarden, which is a techy pot for plants that uses water, fertilizer, with buttons and a digital screen to remind you to add water, change water, put fertilizer, and more. This was set up for planting herbs. I was at first skeptical of it, but the husband seems eager to try it, and promised to be on top of the maintenance. And it worked! Some of the plants grew early and quickly, and I had to keep up with trimming and harvesting the herbs and integrate them in our meals. That has been pretty fun, and delicious! The best part for me is being able to make homemade pesto with the very healthy basis plants (both Genove Basil and Thai basil) that is tasty and nut free. The dill has died and we tried to put a root of a spring onion and it also worked!

As a couple, we’ve never really been the type to pick plants for our house because they are pretty. We were so low maintenance and unmotivated to put plants in our front lawn and backyard in the bigger house we had! But the Aerogarden sparked a new interest to plant things that are more of a win-win for us, healthy because of better air quality inside the house, and healthy because they are edible. In Edmonton, there’s also additional conversations about edible gardens in outdoor settings. More people are setting up fruit and vegetable garden beds and pots in their front yard, more neighbourhood groups are setting up community gardens (including my own), and the city is helping those who want to put edible food plants in trails and neighbourhood ponds.

In addition to increased conversations about planing for sustenance, there’s also more encouragement towards planting outdoors with a goal towards naturalization. As in, planting pants, shrubs, bushes that are native plant species in the area, and in a way where mowing won’t be necessary. I thought that there’s merit to the idea, and I’m eager to see more people take up on it. Now that we moved to a townhouse with a very small patch of dirt under our property lines, I don’t think we’ll be able to contribute much to this idea. Overall, it’s pretty neat to see what captures people’s interest in plant care in their homes and immediate surroundings!

The Courage from Admitting Fear

Giselle thinking while resting her face on her hands

By: Giselle General

“That is a cool idea, my love. But I don’t feel comfortable initiating that at all. If we’re gonna do it, I need you to set it up, or at least do it along with me.”

When you are so used to being your own provider, advocate, and nurturer, when you are in survival mode for so long, being afraid can be devastating. Feeling fear means being vulnerable, which means being harmed, putting myself and the people I care about the most (which for most of my childhood would be my brother), at huge physical and emotional risk. The pain would be a double-whammy, from the situation and how our unmet practical needs are exposed, and from the heartache from realizing there is no one to rely on.

Being vulnerable enough to express discomfort is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken, and continue to take, in my adult life. The only setting where I’ve felt okay enough to do this, is the place that matters that most, my own home.

For me, admitting fear involves these different parts and with all of them together, has helped in addressing, confronting or putting things in perspective.

First, is giving myself permission to be concerned or afraid or threatened. Learning that ’emotions are information’ is the foundation of me being able to do this. I’ve learned to not immediately attach a moral assessment to my emotions, and that the concern or fear is related to something about how I perceive my environment. Since all emotions are valid, I’ve learned that it is okay for my mind and hear to express whatever I am feeling in that moment.

Second, is labeling, putting into words the type of fear, and saying it out loud. Anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, unsafe, uncertain, confused, worried about being injured, are just some of the ways I now express my fear about something. Another important part is being able to assess and rate the level of fear. It can be 2 out of 10 level of worry about something in the near future. It can be a split second 5 out of 10 quick jump scare because a garden snake jumped out to our walking path. It could be a 4 out of 10 moment of anxiousness because of having to go door-knocking as a political candidate who is a visibly Asian woman. I realized that the more specific the descriptor and the number rating, the more capable I am in doing the next two steps.

Third, is reaching out to express it. This is also a work in progress. Even the mere act of saying, just to myself “hoo boy, I’m worried about this!” is a milestone in itself. A few times, I’ve come along with my husband and his running group that has meetups all year long, including winter at -30. During one of the winter runs during a milder day, I joined him and the route involved some trails along a side of a hill, doable in the summer but with ice and snow it’s a bit tricky. Allowing myself to even pause and look afraid for long enough for my husband to notice my apprehension, is a form of expression I wasn’t always able to do.

The final one, is to find solutions and asserting my boundaries. I eventually learned that it is okay, it is possible, to move away from the threat. There are a variety of solutions, whether it is just vent and let it go, or monitor the situation because I’m more informed and equipped these days, or let someone do the heavy lifting on my behalf. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I now feel okay saying “that will be physically or medically unsafe, so no thank you” or not be ashamed to tell myself that my financial security is more important at this point.

Two hands reaching out to hold each other

For so long, the definition of courage that I embraced is in enduring, persisting, putting a brave face. All of that is important, and all of that is out of necessity. My goodness though, it is nice to not to do that all the time. I want to close this post with the lyrices of a song that always resonates with me when thinking about this topic, “The Warrior is a Child” by Gary Valenciano.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because his armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
I never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at his feet

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while (I cry for just a while)
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside)

Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child